There is no denying that there are still so many aspects of cannabis that need to be studied or more thoroughly investigated. One example is whether cannabis can really cure cancer. While studies using lab rats have found that cannabis can keep cancer cells from spreading and that cannabis can even cause cancer cells to “commit suicide,” there have been no clinical trials yet. So whether it works for actual humans with cancer remains to be seen.
Another area that needs more research is cannabis worker safety. According to Marc Schenker, professor emeritus of Public Health Sciences and Medicine at the University of California’s Davis School of Medicine, the health hazards and the risks that cannabis farm workers face are still largely unstudied.
Schenker, who spoke at the Goodwin Forum at Humboldt State University in California, noted that the little research conducted on the matter has shown that cannabis workers face unique risks, in addition to those that are inherent among workers in any form of mass agricultural production site. But that’s about it.
Because of the cannabis industry’s longstanding underground nature, combined with the limited political support and the limited resources, studies on cannabis worker safety, and cannabis in general, have been lacking.
Schenker argued that there is an immediate need for the establishment of health and safety guidelines designed for workers as cannabis legalization in the state of California looms. He pointed out that cannabis is now California’s most valuable agricultural commodity and the industry has an estimated 100,000 workers.
Evidence from other states, Schenker noted, suggests that among the major health risks involved in cannabis work are chemical, respiratory, and musculo-skeletal exposures, as well as electrical hazards, fire, and explosion. He also cited exposure to various fungi, dusts, and chemicals, as well as heat exhaustion as possible risk candidates for cannabis farm workers, which have been shown in other agricultural industries to lead to allergic reactions, asthma, and other long-term health effects.
He also outlined studies showing that trimmers can face stress injuries after trimming for extended periods of time without rotating with other workers. Additionally, cannabis trimmers have a unique exposure to THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, which is present throughout workstations and can possibly affect the skin.
Schenker explained that there isn’t enough available information to really show the extent of these risks. What he laid out, though, are likely hazards based the little data available and based on his study of hazards for other agricultural forms throughout his career.
He also mentioned the social and personal risks associated with the marijuana industry, including sexual assault in remote areas, human trafficking, and abuse of immigrant laborers. Schenker noted that this type of issues is where the academe has fallen short.
HSU sociology professor Josh Meisel, who is also the co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, said that Schenker’s visit to the university signals the beginning of a team-up by academic institutions to start filling in the information gaps, especially with California using tax revenue from marijuana to fund the research.
Meisel pointed out since California is geographically located in the center of the cannabis industry, they are in a unique position to deliver insight to key players of the industry who can help it evolve and “move out of the shadows.”
Schenker said that UC Davis intends to do research on several small farms in order to determine the extent of worker risks and exposure to hazards. They will share the results of these studies with the state government as well as with other academic institutions, and with the industry itself in order to help improve the working conditions in cannabis farms.
He emphasized, though, that to actually understand these risks, there is a need for sufficient funds, time and creativity.